The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House approves $1.7 trillion omnibus bill amid GOP objections, sending it to Biden

The bill boosts domestic and defense spending -- and averts what would have been a government shutdown

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), leaves the chamber as the final votes of the 117th Congress are cast for the $1.7 trillion spending bill that finances federal agencies and provides aid to Ukraine, at the Capitol on Friday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
8 min

The House on Friday approved a roughly $1.7 trillion bill to fund the government through most of 2023, sending to President Biden a sprawling year-end package that funds his top priorities, provides new aid to Ukraine and averts a government shutdown.

The outcome marked the culmination of a two-year session of Congress that often saw lawmakers hurtling from deadline to deadline, at times threatening to push the economy to the brink. While some Republicans this week backed the spending measure in the Senate, most of them rejected it in the House — foreshadowing the perilous fights to come once the party assumes control of that chamber next year.

The omnibus provides nearly $773 billion for domestic programs and more than $850 billion for defense spending, covering expenses through fiscal 2023. It also includes nearly $45 billion in military, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, as well as about $27 billion to respond to natural disasters affecting Florida, Puerto Rico and other parts of the United States.

With it, lawmakers appended a wide array of other long-stalled legislative proposals — banning TikTok on government devices, helping Americans save for retirement, protecting pregnant workers from discrimination and rethinking the way the country counts electoral votes in the presidential election.

The House approved the omnibus on a 225-201 vote, with one member, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), voting present. Only one Democrat, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), opposed it. The debate itself was sparsely attended, since hundreds of lawmakers from both parties filed to vote by proxy as a result of a major snowstorm that snarled holiday travel, plunged parts of the nation into subzero temperatures and left millions of Americans without power.

What's in the $1.7 trillion omnibus?

Only nine Republicans crossed the aisle to join Democrats in support of the bill, as the party stayed largely united behind Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the chamber’s minority leader. On Friday, McCarthy affirmed his stiff resistance to negotiating with Democrats, arguing instead that the talks should have been postponed until January, when the GOP is set to take over the House.

In a precursor to the political battles to come, McCarthy took to the House floor earlier in the legislative debate to air numerous grievances with the spending measure — that it failed to fund border enforcement, made worse the problem of fentanyl and was “jam-packed with wokeism.” He blasted the inclusion of funding for some lawmakers’ pet projects, known as earmarks, even though the House GOP voted to preserve their ability to seek them in the new year.

“It’ll make the border worse, it’ll make inflation worse, it’ll make the economy worse, it’ll make the government worse,” McCarthy said, promising: “In 11 days, all this changes.”

Biden is now expected to sign the bill in the coming days. For now, the president Friday signed a temporary, one-week funding measure to ensure the government stays open while lawmakers prepare the fuller omnibus for enactment.

Senate approves omnibus spending bill

With a potential shutdown averted, the 117th Congress essentially came to its close, ending a two-year period that saw Democrats leverage their rare control of the House, Senate and White House to advance a vast political and economic agenda. The debates often proved lengthy and raucous — sometimes pitting party lawmakers against themselves — though Democrats still managed to clinch many of Biden’s top legislative priorities.

Democrats worked with Republicans to secure a long-elusive deal to improve the nation’s infrastructure, a $1.2 trillion package they adopted last fall to repair the country’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and internet connections. They worked together on a slew of other measures to improve U.S. science and research, fix problems in veterans’ care and revise gun laws in the wake of numerous mass shootings.

At times, though, Democrats opted to forge ahead on their own — using special legislative tools to navigate past Republican opposition in the narrowly divided Senate. They muscled through a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package when they took over in 2021, and they clinched a deal on health care and climate change earlier this year, a much smaller successor to their original $2 trillion plan known as the Build Back Better Act.

A tectonic political shift now awaits the Capitol come January, when House Republicans could follow through on their threats to seize on looming fiscal deadlines and force the White House to accept spending cuts and major changes to Social Security and other entitlement programs. To that end, the fierce bickering Friday may offer an ominous warning about battles on the horizon, particularly since Congress must return to the matter of government funding before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

“I’m very worried about the budget discussions in 2023, because House Republicans seem determined to threaten to shut down the government if they don’t get their way,” predicted Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the chamber’s appropriations panel, in the days before the vote. “Because of the position of House Republicans, we’re in for a very bumpy ride on budget issues next year.”

The omnibus approved Friday arrived after months of hushed, bipartisan talks among a trio of top appropriators — Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), along with Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.). They clinched a deal around the more-than-4,100-page bill in the early hours Tuesday morning as Leahy and Shelby looked to craft one final bipartisan compromise before retiring at the end of the current session of Congress.

Two days later, they successfully shepherded it through the Senate, overcoming objections from a small set of Republicans in a bid to avert a federal shutdown, which would have occurred at midnight Friday if Congress had failed to act.

The measure boosts defense spending by about 10 percent — satisfying a key GOP demand — while delivering a pay increase for military service members along with funds for new weapons, aircraft and warships. The omnibus also increases spending on some federal health, education, labor and economic programs, as sought by Democrats, even though some of the funds are at lower levels than party lawmakers would have liked. That includes new money to help heighten enforcement at a key labor rights watchdog, improve veterans’ medical care and address issues at the Food and Drug Administration following a baby formula shortage this year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — delivering what she described as likely her last speech as the chamber’s leader — said the package ultimately is critical to “keep from shutting the government down, but more importantly, to meet the needs of the American people.”

House Republicans largely sat out of the omnibus talks. Instead, McCarthy led his party in arguing for a short-term funding extension, which would have kept the government running into next year, with federal spending frozen at existing levels.

But congressional leaders and negotiators rejected that approach — and even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supported the omnibus out of a belief that it was imperfect, yet provided ample funding for the Pentagon. That prompted McCarthy to assail McConnell last week, then later side with conservatives including Reps. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who pledged in a public letter to “do everything in our power to thwart even the smallest legislative and policy efforts” of senators who backed the omnibus.

For McCarthy, their support is critical, as he struggles to amass the votes needed to become speaker in a narrowly divided House next year. Democrats at one point chided him over his still-unresolved race: “After listening to that it’s clear he doesn’t have the votes yet,” remarked Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) on the chamber floor.

Conservatives, meanwhile, lambasted Democrats for what Roy at one point described as a “fake spending Democrat priority bill that the American people resoundingly rejected in November.” At times shouting, he faulted lawmakers for trying to finish the omnibus speedily before the holiday and choosing to vote from afar, by proxy, even though Republicans also availed themselves of the option.

“The American people deserve us to be here over Christmas,” Roy said.

McCarthy’s top deputy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), previously encouraged Republicans to vote against the one-week funding extension that gave lawmakers more time to reach a deal — a move that would have triggered a shutdown. On Tuesday, Scalise’s aides also recommended a vote against the omnibus, arguing that the bill is “designed to sideline the incoming Republican House Majority” with its spending increases.

Still, some Democrats maintained this week they saw reason for hope even amid an outpouring of GOP opposition. Hours before the House voted, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference that the omnibus illustrated why the “Trump way doesn’t work” — and how there is still an appetite for bipartisanship.

“Not all the Republicans are MAGA,” Schumer said, referring to the former president’s campaign slogan. “Following MAGA is like Thelma and Louise, going over a cliff, and that’s what we saw in the election.”